Essential Maneuvers for the Driving Test in 2019: From Signaling to Backing UpUpdated Aug. 1, 2019
In this section we discuss the driving maneuvers you must learn to control your vehicle, pass your practical driving exam and stay safe when operating your car as a licensed driver. When it comes to positioning your car, steering, backing up and communicating with other road users, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about things. It is important to learn the correct maneuvering rules and methods from the start of your learning journey, otherwise you may develop bad habits which are hard to fix later.
Completing a pre-drive checklist will be part of your practical driving exam. Successfully running through the checklist demonstrates to your assessor that you know how to begin a journey safely, spot mechanical issues before you depart and make necessary adjustments to your vehicle. You will fail your driving test if you miss too many points on the pre-drive checklist.
It is important to begin working through the pre-drive checklist from the very first day you start learning to drive, as it will help you form good habits in preparation for the exam. When you are a more experienced driver, many of these checks will become second nature and you will not need to run through the list thoroughly every time you get in your car.
The pre-drive checklist begins outside the vehicle, where you must look for animals, obstacles and children around the car that may not be seen from the driver’s seat. Also check for any obvious damage to the vehicle which may render it unsafe to drive. Inside the vehicle you must then adjust your side-view mirrors, rear-view mirror and seat belt, before embarking on your journey.
Correct lane positioning amounts to much more than simply staying within the boundaries of your lane. According to driving experts there are five possible lane positions, each of which is appropriate in a unique set of driving situations. Lane positions 1, 2 and 3 should be used when traveling in a single lane, while 4 and 5 must only be assumed when merging into a different lane. Here is a brief breakdown of the five lane positions you must learn:
Lane position 1: The default driving position. Your vehicle is positioned in the center of a lane, with at least three feet of space between your car and the lane boundary lines.
Lane position 2: Three to six inches away from the left boundary line. Assumed to avoid obstacles, prepare for a left turn or move over for road workers in the adjacent lane.
Lane position 3: Three to six inches away from the right boundary line. Assumed to avoid obstacles or prepare for a right turn.
Lane position 4: Straddling the left lane boundary line. Assumed when merging to the left-hand lane or avoiding an obstacle in the middle of your lane.
Lane position 5: Straddling the right lane boundary line. Assumed when merging to the right-hand lane or avoiding an obstacle in the center of your current lane.
Keep in mind that positions 4 and 5 should only be used to avoid a hazard when you can do so without endangering drivers in the adjacent lane.
Car reference points
Knowing where your vehicle should be positioned is the easy part. Visualizing where your vehicle sits on the road and maneuvering it into the correct position is difficult – particularly for new drivers. Ascertaining where your car is in relation to other vehicles, obstacles, the curb and road markings is a challenge because the car itself obscures your view. From the driver’s seat, you must rely on your mirrors and strategic reference points to help you maneuver the vehicle.
When attempting to position your vehicle the recommended three to six inches away from side-adjacent objects and markings (i.e. the curb, or the edge of a parking space) use your left headlight, or the center of your hood. When parking on the left side of the street, your left headlight should line up with the curb when you are in the correct position. When parking on the right, the curb should appear to intersect the center of your hood.
We discuss these reference points along with tactics you can use to position yourself correctly in relation to front and rear road markings, elsewhere on the website.
Learning to steer your vehicle correctly begins with assuming the correct hand position on the steering wheel. There are three generally accepted hand positions: “10 and 2”, “9 and 3” and “8 and 4”. Opinions on which position is the most appropriate for general use vary state by state, so you should consult your own driving manual in addition to reading this article. Generally, position “9 and 3” is the safest option, as it affords superior leverage on the steering wheel while keeping your forearms safely away from the air bag deployment zone. If the air bag deploys when your arms are in the way, they will be thrown back toward your face and could cause serious injury.
When it comes to steering technique, drivers have several options. Which you use should depend on the situation, as discussed below:
Hand-to-hand / Push-pull steering: Widely considered the safest and most effective steering method, hand-to-hand steering involves feeding the wheel through the hands while executing a turn. With push-pull steering, the driver does not sacrifice control by removing one hand from the wheel. This technique keeps your forearms safely away from the air bag deployment zone.
Hand-over-hand steering: This technique involves removing one hand at a time from the steering wheel, crossing the hands to regain connection and keep the wheel turning. Hand-over-hand steering is an acceptable technique to use during your driving test and is considered more efficient than hand-to-hand by many drivers. This is untrue, as experts now understand hand-over-hand to be a less efficient steering method in most situations. It is also more dangerous, as crossing the hands puts them in front of the air bag deployment area.
One hand steering: One handed steering is only appropriate when backing up demands that you release the wheel to look over your shoulder, and when you need one hand to operate controls within the vehicle. It should not be used in general driving situations otherwise.
Reversing your car can be a little daunting to begin with, as your view behind the vehicle is limited. The key thing to remember about backing up is that you MUST turn and look back over your shoulder while maneuvering; do not rely solely on your mirrors to guide you. Reversing without turning around will amount to a fail on your driving exam. However, you must not look backward throughout the entire maneuver either! Remember to look forward briefly and check the position of your front wheels, particularly when backing up into a tight spot.
Follow these steps while reversing a car:
- Press your foot firmly on the brakes and shift the car into reverse.
- Place your left hand at the 12 o’clock position on the wheel, release the parking brake.
- Place your right hand on the passenger seat to brace yourself.
- Do not accelerate. Instead, gently release the brake until the car starts to move backwards.
- You should only accelerate if the situation calls for a fast maneuver. Always cover the brake pedal in case you need to stop.
To share the road with others, you must learn to communicate effectively using your turn indicators, headlights, taillights and car horn. Learning hand signals will also be an important aspect of your driver’s education program, which we will discuss further down this page.
Your turn indicator lights are the signaling tool you will use most often. Their primary function is to communicate to other drivers that you intend to turn or change lanes, though they can also be used in place of your hazard lights in an emergency. Your turn signals should be activated a minimum of 100 feet prior to a turn and kept on until the maneuver is complete. If your turn signals malfunction, use hand signals instead.
Your taillights will come on automatically whenever you apply the brakes, communicating to other motorists that your vehicle is slowing. You can manipulate your taillights if a driver is tailgating or following a little too closely when you need to slow down. In this situation, attract their attention by gently pulsing the brake pedal to flash the taillights a few times.
Headlights can also be flashed to gain the attention of other drivers. According to most state driving handbooks, the only legitimate time to flash your headlights at another driver is when you must warn them that their high-beam headlights are active. If a motorist approaches you with their high-beams on, you can let them know of the problem by flashing your own headlights at them a few times. If they do not respond by dimming their lights, avert your eyes to the right side of the roadway to avoid being blinded and do not retaliate by activating your own high-beams.
If other drivers flash their headlights at you, check your own high-beam indicator – as this is likely the reason. If your high beams are not the cause, it could be they are warning you that your headlights are misaligned or that one is malfunctioning. Get them checked out by a mechanic as soon as possible.
The practice of flashing headlights to warn other drivers of a speed trap or police presence on the road is common around the United States. We strongly recommend that you check your state driving manual for information on this topic. In some states, it is illegal.
If your turn indicators or taillights are malfunctioning, you must communicate your intention to turn, slow down or stop using hand signals. They will also come in handy on extremely sunny days when your signal lights are difficult to see, and when your indicators are obscured by a line of traffic. Never use hand signals at night, as you will not be seen. If your signal lights are not working you simply cannot drive after dark.
All signals must be executed through your left window, as described here:
- Right turn: Extend your left arm out and bend it at the elbow, with the hand pointing upward.
- Left turn: Extend your left arm straight out with no bend. Your hand should be pointing to the left.
- Slowing or stopping: Extend your left arm out and bend it at the elbow, with the hand pointing down towards the roadway.
Do not neglect hand signals during your driver’s education program, as you will need to recall them more often than you think! Most drivers are fortunate enough never to need hand signals themselves, but they must still recognize them. Cyclists do not have signal lights and will always use hand signals to communicate.
Using your car horn
Your car horn is an extremely powerful communication tool which you must take care not to overuse. Many drivers are far too quick to sound their horns in anger, frustration, or simply to greet other motorists. The car horn was not intended to be used as a means of self-expression, but as a last resort when you absolutely must get another driver’s attention.
Whenever you sound your horn, you run this risk of startling other road users and causing an accident. Only use your car horn when it is necessary to protect yourself or other road users from harm. For instance:
- When you must warn another motorist that they are about to hit you.
- When you have lost control of your vehicle and must warn other drivers away.
- When you need to scare an animal off the roadway to avoid a collision.
- Some states permit gentle use of the car horn in low visibility conditions and when approaching blind curves. Check your manual for details.
Never use your horn to express frustration, urge other road users to move or travel faster (unless to avoid a collision) or to greet another driver. You must also avoid using your horn when horses and horse-drawn vehicles are on the road, unless it is absolutely necessary.
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